Labatt gives insider top job

After much speculation about who would land the top national marketing job at Labatt Breweries of Canada, the nod has gone to a veteran sales and marketing executive who only four months ago was named vice-president of national sales.The new vice-president...

After much speculation about who would land the top national marketing job at Labatt Breweries of Canada, the nod has gone to a veteran sales and marketing executive who only four months ago was named vice-president of national sales.

The new vice-president of marketing and sales is Bruce Elliot, 36, a 15-year, full-time Labatt employee.

Elliot has spent more than half his time with Labatt working exclusively on the sales side.

Before becoming vice-president of national sales, he spent four years as director of sales for Ontario.

Earlier positions

Earlier in his career, he held sales positions in New Brunswick and Winnipeg.

Elliot also spent several years in the mid-1980s as a regional brand manager in the Prairies, national brand manager on Budweiser and Bud Light and Ontario marketing manager.

In awarding Elliot the coveted top marketing spot, Labatt President Hugo Powell would appear to be signalling he still trusts the marketing smarts of traditional beer marketers.

Elliot acknowledges there had been speculation Powell would go outside the company – in all likelihood to the packaged goods industry – to find a candidate for the top marketing job, but he notes it also made a lot of sense to tap the experience of a current employee.

‘We’ve been building momentum in the company, and someone from inside can keep it going.’

Since assuming the presidency in the summer, Powell has said on numerous occasions the old methods of beer marketing – specifically big-budget tv campaigns aimed almost exclusively at core beer drinkers – were no longer suitable for the marketplace.

Powell has an extensive packaged goods background, as do several of the senior marketing executives at rival Molson Breweries.

Under Powell, Labatt has been making a greater effort to exploit such commonplace packaged goods marketing techniques as consumer research and database marketing.

And for his part, Elliot, a traditionally-trained beer marketer who worked for Powell once before when Powell was president of Labatt’s Ontario operation, says he is firmly in Powell’s camp.

Elliot says this increased emphasis on non-traditional beer marketing will be reflected in Labatt’s marketing budget, which will have a larger portion than in the past directed towards research and below-the-line programs.

Sales force

In addition to looking to the packaged goods world for marketing ideas, Labatt’s marketing brass has begun working more closely with its sales force.

‘We’re becoming more aware of our customers’ needs, and, obviously, our connection with our customers is through our sales force,’ Elliot says.

With all the talk emanating from Labatt about changing the way it does business, it could be construed that the beer giant is on the road to abandoning what made it successful in the first place – the creation of strong brand identities.

But Elliot is quick to explain that although Labatt is intent on taking a more sales-oriented approach, ‘obviously, we don’t want to go too far.’